By Dolores Cox
Barack Obama is the first African-American president in the U.S. However, the more things change, the more they remain the same, for there is another dimension of Black history we need to be aware of.
Since the 17th century, African Americans have been at the bottom of the economic ladder. In the U.S., race has always been a strong determinant of one’s social and economic status. The longstanding legacy of racial segregation and discrimination has resulted in disparities in employment, income, medical care, housing and education for Blacks to this day.
The persistence and tenacity of white supremacist ideology permeating U.S. culture prevents economic justice and equality for Black people. It stifles any public discourse on the matter as well as implementation of solutions.
Additionally, throughout the African Diaspora, U.S. imperialist policies have contributed greatly to the problem of global poverty. Countries are made poor by the theft of their land and natural resources, most often by military might, by unfair, so-called free-market trade, debt repayment and unjust taxes on labor and consumption. These global injustices and human rights violations have both created and deepened poverty.
The State of the Dream 2009 report (the reference is to Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech at the historic 1963 march), released this past January by United for a Fair Economy titled “The Silent Depression,” highlights the disproportionate suffering of Blacks in the U.S. (www.faireconomy.org)
The report reveals that due to enduring institutionalized racist policies, Blacks have been in an economic recession for nearly five years and have entered into a depression in terms of unemployment which equals or exceeds that of the Great Depression of 1929.
The report states that the unemployment rate for Blacks is nearly 12 percent and is expected to increase to almost 20 percent by 2010. The median or middle household income of Blacks is reported to be $38,269, while that of whites is $61,280. Blacks have poverty rates of 24 percent compared to 10 percent poverty rate for whites.
With regard to wealth and assets, the report states that nearly 30 percent of Black people have zero or negative worth versus 15 percent of white people. Only 18 percent of people of color have retirement accounts compared to 43.3 percent of their white counterparts. On average, people of color have only eight cents for every dollar of white wealth. The report says that living in poverty creates barriers to both economic and educational mobility. Blacks are twice as likely to live in poverty-stricken areas as are whites.
Because these statistics pertain to African Americans, they are not getting the attention they should get because of the long-standing tradition of ignoring such matters. As such, there is no discussion of any bailout packages to rectify this unacceptable economic situation.
There are two quotes from Martin Luther King Jr. in this report. The first is: “The Constitution assured the right to vote, but there is no assurance of the right of adequate housing, or the right to an adequate income. And yet in a nation which has a gross national product of 750 million dollars a year, it is morally right to insist that every person has an adequate education and enough money to provide basic necessities for one’s family.” (“Non-Violence: the Road to Freedom,” 1966)
The other is: “It is a trite yet urgently true observation that if America is to remain a first-class nation, it cannot have second-class citizens.” (“The Rising Tide of Racial Consciousness,” 1960)
In terms of solutions, the report states that any economic stimulus program must be geared toward investing in the working class and the poor. It must provide for job creation, affordable housing, quality education, affordable health care and an end to the wars in the Middle East. Government policies, at all levels, need to be fairer; and tax shelters and deductions for the rich must end. Specifically, an economic burden should not be borne by the working class, people of color or the poor.
The consequences of systemic racism must be combated by a commitment to institute and sustain affirmative action programs and policies that repair these injustices. Such social reforms will lead to economic reform and the closing of economic racial gaps, says the report.
It’s time to end the crisis of silence about the true state of Dr. King’s dream. In his 1967 speech, “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence,” he said, “A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth.” Capitalist greed is now revealing itself in a big way. It’s time for this revolution to take place.
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